More than three dozen customers of Sea Star Line and Crowley Liner services have filed a triple-damage antitrust lawsuit against the carriers, their parent companies and a former company official.
The lawsuit was filed last week in U.S. District Court in Charleston, S.C., by cargo interests that opted out of a $52.25 million class-action settlement with Sea Star, Crowley and Horizon Lines.
Horizon, which has reached settlements with the opt-out shippers, is not a defendant in the latest lawsuit.
The lawsuit targets Sea Star, its majority owner Saltchuk Resources, sister company Totem Ocean Trailer Express, Crowley Liner Services and its parent, Crowley Maritime Corp., and Leonard Shapiro, a former Saltchuk director.
Plaintiffs include large shippers such as Coca-Cola, Frito-Lay, Quaker Oats, Sears, ConAgra, Nestle, Frito-Lay, Procter & Gamble, and trucking companies including YRC, New Penn and USF Reddaway.
They allege officials of companies in the Puerto Rico trade agreed “to divide up the steamship business for the entire Puerto Rico trade in terms of ship capacity, ports, sailings and market shares.”
TOTE and Saltchuk declined to comment on the lawsuit. A Crowley spokesman said the litigation involves “allegations that first surfaced four years ago. The company has resolved about 80 percent of the potential claims related to this matter in order to avoid the expense and burden of litigation. We are disappointed these lawsuits were filed, and will aggressively pursue our defenses.”
The lawsuit does not seek a specific amount of damages but seeks treble damages under the Sherman Antitrust Act.
The civil lawsuits follow a Justice Department investigation that alleged price-fixing by U.S. mainland-Puerto Rico carriers between 2002 and April 2008, when federal agents raided offices of Horizon, Sea Star and Crowley.
Horizon and Sea Star pleaded guilty to antitrust violations in the case. Three former Horizon officials and two from Sea Star pleaded guilty in late 2008 to antitrust conspiracy or destroying evidence. Frank Peake, former president of Sea Star, was indicted last Nov. 17 on an antitrust charge.